Circumcision without hands (Col. 2:11)

Summary: Circumcision without hands—namely “by the Spirit” (Rom. 2:29)—is circumcision of the heart, which is a well-known Old Testament expression.  An uncircumcised heart “always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). Circumcision of the heart makes an end to evil deeds (Jer. 4:4), makes an end to the desire to sin (Rom. 7:15, 20) and puts the Law in the heart and writes it on our mind (Hebr. 10:15-18).  Circumcision of the heart also makes people alive that “were dead in … transgressions” (2:13).  This means that the person’s guilt is removed.  “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Hebr. 10:15-18). A circumcised heart “love(s) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 30:6)

2:11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;

Circumcision made without hands is circumcision by the Spirit, made to the heart:

But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29).

This idea of circumcision of the heart as symbol for making an end to a life of seeking sin is a well-known Old Testament expression:

 “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (Deut. 10:16).

Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut 30:6)

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds” (Jer. 4:4).

Consequently, at his defense before the Sanhedrin, Stephen said:

You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51)

Physical circumcision removes part of a person’s body.  Col. 2:11 uses circumcision as a symbol for the removal of “the flesh”.  “Flesh” mostly has a neutral meaning, referring to the literal body (1:22, 24), but 2:11 should be read with 2:13, which defines “the uncircumcision of your flesh” as being “dead in your transgressions”.  In other words, the Colossians “were dead in … transgressions” (2:13), but have been “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands” (2:11), which removed the “uncircumcision of your flesh” (2:11).  As explained in Romans 7, this does not mean that the person no longer sins, but that he does not want to sin (Rom. 7:15, 20).  The desire not to sin is what differentiates Christians from other people.

Circumcision of the heart is when the Spirit puts the Law in our hearts and writes it on our minds:

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  (Hebr. 10:15-17)

Colossians Table of Contents

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